The NBA Draft came and went last week, and while the first pick was both predictable and incredibly intriguing, the event itself was somewhat of a sleeper. I'm an optimist by nature, and my love for the game of basketball runs deeps. So, I'm writing this not from a whiny, "this draft was terrible" point of view but rather a "how do we make this more entertaining" type of mindset.
Before you can fix anything, you need to understand what's wrong. I'm going to take that angle in today's article, where I break down the areas that can and should be fixed and then offer my solutions.
It's imperative that I start here because this has been a long standing gripe of mine with the draft. Players and picks are traded, and announcements are made on television. Yet, the commissioner still walks up to the podium, talks like the original team is still drafting, announces the pick, and then hands the kid a logo'd hat for the team that didn't pick him. The NBA will say it has to do this until trades are "official," but as a league that is built on entertainment, they can cross the t's and dot the i's off camera.
The Solution: Essentially, the opposite of what I just described. Make it clear to viewers what is happening and then react in real time. Players shouldn't sit down to a do a post pick interview wearing the wrong team's hat.
I like Monica McNutt and thought she did a nice job interviewing the players and their families once they were picked. However, hearing roughly the same questions followed by the same answers is just bad tv. If I asked anyone in that position how they felt, I could pretty much guarantee the general theme of those answers. I'm not saying that each guy shouldn't have that opportunity to give thanks, but I think the questions could be a little bit more personal so that 1. viewers learn a little bit more about each player and 2. the dialogue is truly unique to each players and his support system.
The Solution: Do some more research, and instead of asking "how do you feel right now?", say something like "you broke your ankle your junior year of high school and missed half the season. Tell me how that moment changed your career and allowed you to be standing here today?"
The other issue with the interview format in general was the time. In the NFL Draft, a player is selected and then typically asked one question on the side of the stage. This allows guys like Mel Kiper Jr. and Louis Riddick to then dive right into the analysis. That interview takes what, maybe 30 seconds?
The NBA interviews were 90-120 seconds. I'm not saying this is a bad, but it then led to a very limited amount of time for Jay Bilas to even tell you about the player. Either the interviews need to shortened, or the time between picks needs to be increased.
No offense to JJ Reddick, Jay Bilas, and Andraya Carter's color commentary, but instead of just listening to them talk, I'd like to see a better video package of each player. There are 20+ minute videos on YouTube for most draft prospects breaking down their strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, there isn't time for a 20 minute video breakdown, but I do think ESPN could provide more detail on what each player does well and where they can improve. The reason this is so important is that the evolution of the draft means that many viewers have never seen a lot of the guys being picked. Unless you're a die-hard basketball fan, how many viewers had ever seen Bilal Coulibaly or Amen Thompson play? People are watching to get that first impression, to get a look at what scouts see, etc.
The Solution: Instead of creating a 1 minute highlight tape, do some more diligence on each player so that fans learn more about their game and potential. Again, maybe the short amount of time once each player's interview was finished is the reason for this.
I think it's important to point out that limited time also meant very limited analysis. Do I think JJ, Jay, and Andraya know the game? Absolutely. But, their ability to critically evaluate each pick wasn't on full display in this format.
The NFL Combine is talked about each year for weeks. It's become it's own event. The NBA has yet to take a page from this playbook to better publicize the combine, the results, and the takeaways.
The Solution: ESPN needs to do more ahead of the draft with the combine. During the actual draft broadcast, take the viewers through some of the results. Tell us who had the best vertical jumps, 3/4 court sprints, etc. Who led the combine games in scoring? What international players stood out?
The NBA is in a position of strength and would do well to implement some of these changes. People want to watch, they want to be entertained, and they want some takeaways that they can share around the water cooler at work. You're certainly never going to make everyone happy, but a few, simple changes would go a long way.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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